|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Zalman Michoel Ben Golda Mirel
-Ariela Golda Bas Amira Tova
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**Note: This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
בֹּא ● Bo
● Why did Rosh Chodesh need to be taught before the Plagues were complete? Why did the B’nei Yisrael need a sign on their doors to be saved? ●
“The Choice is Yours”
After Moshe Rabbeinu warned Pharaoh about Makkas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborn, and stormed out of Pharaoh’s presence, Hashem tought Moshe and Aharon the first Mitzvah commanded to Klal Yisrael as a nation, the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh.1 The question is what exactly is the nature of this commandment? Moreover, why is Rosh Chodesh a commandment?
If the function of the commandment refers specifically to “Ibur HaShannah,” the arrangement of the Jewish calendar2, then the commandment would make sense, because the eventual festivals would need to be observed in their appropriate times. It serves a particular function. But, apparently, there is more to this Mitzvah. The Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh also includes “Kiddush HaChodesh,” the sanctification of the beginning of each month.2 And if the goal of this aspect of the Mitzvah was to alert the masses of the “New Moon,” indicating the arrival of a new month, that would also make sense, for the same reason why setting up the calendar makes sense. But, why did this aspect of the Mitzvah require a “Kiddush,” or “sanctification”? It just seems like a glorified memo, a reminder. Why do the announcements on the bulletin board call for a ceremonious “consecration”?
Moreover, why was this Mitzvah selected as the first official commandment of the people? If the commandment was purely to help organize the schedule for eventual festivals which the people have not been commanded yet, why did it need to be first? There was nothing on the schedule yet! If they needed a memo for their first Pesach observance, the commandment to observe Pesach in two week’s time could be given right then and there, through the commandments of Pesach which they were about to be given, without the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. Perhaps Korban Pesach should have been their first Mitzvah. Meanwhile, Rosh Chodesh could have been instituted at a later point in time when Am Yisrael’s schedule would begin to get complicated, perhaps when more than one festival would be commanded of them. Why did Rosh Chodesh need to be commanded right then and there?
Couldn’t it wait just one more plague?
What is also strange is that this Mitzvah seems to create a conspicuous interruption in the story. More specifically, it is peculiar that the Torah apparently couldn’t wait for the completion of the Ten Makkos before G-d would give over this commandment. The Chumash specifies that it was when the people were yet in Egypt, while everyone was waiting on the pending Makkas Bechoros, that Moshe and Aharon were taught this law to give over to the B’nei Yisrael, along with the set of laws related to the Korban Pesach.2
We can understand why Korban Pesach needed to be taught when it was because the Korban Pesach was an obvious catalyst of not only the Exodus, but their salvation during Makkas Bechoros. It was a part of the preparation for plague number ten.
However, was the specific teaching of Rosh Chodesh absolutely necessary at this particular juncture? Rosh Chodesh simply seems to interrupt the process. What was it about Kiddush HaChodesh that was so crucial for Am Yisrael to realize now, before Egypt’s final serving of Makkos? Was it merely a coincidental introduction to the laws of Pesach? Or is there perhaps something deeper and more fundamental about Rosh Chodesh that the people needed to hear, first and foremost?
The Sign on the Doorposts
Another perplexing issue in our Sidrah is one of the unique instructions Hashem commands the B’nei Yisrael to follow in that generation alone. Indeed, the first Pesach would be different from all other Pesachs, in that Hashem commanded the B’nei Yisrael to smear the blood of the Korban Pesach lamb (symbolizing the slaughtering of the Egyptian deity) on each of their the doorposts literally to serve as some sign so that when Hashem strikes Egypt with Makkas Bechoros, He would see the blood and pass over their houses and not kill the Israelite firstborns during the plague.4 You can’t make this up—the Torah says this. G-d says it.
The question is obvious: Were the people actually being commanded to leave G-d a signal so He’d know where all of the good guys and bad guys were hiding? Why did G-d need to see a sign on the door? We could understand the symbolism of the slaughtering of the Egyptian gods. That part was a necessary initiation, a prerequisite for salvation. But, why did the blood need to go onto the doors? Why was the sign necessary? Obviously, G-d knows who is who! This added measure of putting the blood on the door seems to be extraneous at best and almost heretical at worst! And yet, the whole “Passover” concept is premised on this event, that G-d saw the blood and skipped over our homes. But, why in the world was that first step necessary? It seems like a child’s game. What is the meaning of this “sign”? What is one supposed to make of this seemingly pointless command?
Then and There
There is a lot of symbolism in the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, so that even without the pressing need for list of calendar dates, there are other crucial facets of Rosh Chodesh that needed to be taught.
For example, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch expounds on the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, elaborating on the Mitzvah’s inherent theme of renewal. In doing so, he uses the cycle of the moon as a model for our spiritual lives, illustrating the imperative to abandon one’s spiritual foibles, start over from scratch, no matter how badly one has slipped up or how low one has fallen in his spiritual mission. In turn, this Mitzvah, representing the ability to renew oneself, was certainly an appropriate candidate to be taught as the first commandment for the B’nei Yisrael, considering that they are a people who, at this point, needed to ascend from the ashes and spiritual impurity in the immoral and idolatrous land of Egypt.
Furthermore, the fact that they received this Mitzvah before leaving Egypt makes sense as well since it would be necessary for Israel to be aware of its ability to climb back up and turn over a new leaf, no matter how low they’ve plummeted until now, even while they yet stand in the throes of exile! These implications are critical for us in every generation, especially as we yet stand in exile. That is why Rosh Chodesh was necessary right then and there!
But, there is more to Kiddush HaChodesh.
“This Month is Yours”
If one looks back at the actual, textual commandment of Kiddush HaChodesh, the essential root of the commandment lies in a very specific expression. Hashem commanded them, “HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem…”-“This month shall be for you…”1
The Sforno elaborates that “this” month would specifically be “for you,”—for the B’nei Yisrael, as opposed to all the past months of their lives until this point. Why was this month different from all other months? Because until this month, explains the Sforno, they were slaves and their months—their time, was not their own, but it was their masters’. Time was just something that passed them by and a new month just meant another hopeless month of labor and exile. There was no opportune “time” to look forward to, no span of relief to think and act freely, and they were simply not in control of their “time.” They were not entitled to free will. But, from this point and onward, effective immediately, Hashem says that the time is, “Lachem”-“for you”—for the B’nei Yisrael to live according to will.
The theme of the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh is apparently that of every Ben Yisrael’s power and control over the usage of his or her time. This change in circumstances or in “status” and the monthly reminder of this status calls for a “Kiddush,”for “sanctification,” for it is through our physical independence and our understanding of that independence that enables us to make meaningful decisions. It enables us to choose to do Hashem’s Mitzvos. This Bechirah is the preface for all Mitzvos, for the Korban Pesach which the B’nei Yisrael would need to survive and earn the Exodus. That is why Rosh Chodesh needed to precede Makkas Bechoros!
Nekudas HaBechirah, True Autonomy
This Nekudas HaBechirah, or the fine point of our ability to choose to follow the Will of G-d, was something that was lost during the Egyptian Exile. Growing up in Egypt as a slave, an Israelite was conditioned to think with a slave mentality. He would consequently assimilate into the foreign society living by the impure dogma and lifestyle of that society. Living under such conditions left Klal Yisrael very little room to control and choose a higher lifestyle and how to even spend any of their time. But once G-d sent Moshe Rabbeinu and the many wonders against Egypt, He started to remind the B’nei Yisrael of their inherent Kedushah, their holiness and sanctity, by paving some room for the B’nei Yisrael to realize why they were different from the Egyptians and to ultimately awaken them to the reality they do have control over every second of their lives. That warranted a Kiddush, which is really just a declaration of one’s recognition of present holiness! They were to realize that life and spiritual growth could not be attained by going with the flow of forces such as lust and desire or with the nature of the surrounding societies of the exile. The Egyptian subjugation, in this way, was more than a lack of physical and social freedom, but it was a spiritual prison that would obstruct the B’nei Yisrael’s awareness of its Bechirah Chofshis, its freedom of choice, which they had to fulfill the word of G-d as their souls truly wanted.
The irony is that many were and today still are convinced, unfortunately, that true Bechirah or autonomy is freedom requires that one be allowed and encouraged to act on his instincts, whatever he feels, and not be coerced by any other power. One has to be reminded regularly that this understanding is an incredible misnomer and a complete misconstrual of what it means to have true power and independence. Catering to one’s temptations and the flow of the society is a display of Avdus or subjugation on a most degrading level and exemplifies a lacking in one’s intellectual honesty and self-discipline. It is not an actualization of true autonomy, but it is giving in to coercion on another scale. As R’ Jonathan Sacks so eloquently put it, “true autonomy is not the freedom to do what one wants to do, but to do what one ought to do.”
20% Survival Rate
Now, as we’ve mentioned in earlier discussions, Chazal tell us that there was a major percentage of B’nei Yisrael—four fifths—who did not internalize the above message and were therefore killed out in Makkas Choshech, the Plague of Darkness.5 It was tragic particularly because Hashem was in the midst of bringing out their Geulah, redemption, and yet most of Klal Yisrael were going to miss the opportunity merely because they failed to think for a second and exercise their ability to select a path, to choose their destiny. That too would explain why the B’nei Yisrael needed to be immediately reminded this lesson, before Makkas Bechoros! The nation should have recognized their Bechirah earlier, but they did not. The survivors had to understand that whatever their natural inclination would be, whether to stay in Egypt or to leave Egypt, if push would comes to shove and the Will of G-d would stand contrary to that inclination, they would always have the choice to select between the two. Even in Galus when the enemy was still standing, the temptation of surrounding cultures would be no excuse. How they would ultimately spend their time would ultimately remain their choice.
A Sign for Whom?
In this light, we can understand what G-d was commanding Am Yisrael at the time of Makkas Bechoros when He commanded the people to leave “sign” on the doorpost. As was noted, it is infantile to even suggest that the All-knowing G-d needed to see some sign to know whose homes to plague. The blood on the doorpost must’ve meant something deeper, but what?
Indeed, here too, the answer lies in the Pasuk containing the command. Hashem specifically commanded them, “V’Hayah HaDam Lachem La’Os…”-“And the blood shall be for you for a sign…”4
Yes, we have another appearance of this key word, “Lachem”-“for you.” The sign was not for G-d to know which houses were the right ones. In fact, Rashi understands this word “Lachem” as an implied instruction that the blood of the Korban Pesach be placed specifically on the inner side of the doorpost as opposed to the outer—because the sign was “for you”—the people, and not for anyone else. Yes, G-d needs to see the sign—but not for Himself. He specifically needed to see that we, the people, were seeing it. He needed to see us looking at the sign, that we were actively reading the message in that sign! What was the message of that sign?
The message was the very same one as that of Kiddush HaChodesh, that our time and decisions belongs to us. This sign on the doorpost, Hashem says, is a sign, not “for Me” and not “for the nations,” but specifically “for you,” because this sign represents a display of the acknowledgment and exhibition of control of one’s own life, the choice not to be subservient to the false Egyptian deities and the flow of civilization! This sign would manifest itself in the continued observance of Pesach for generations, but it all started then and there.
Tefillin – A Daily Sign for Good Measure
Although our individual and national recognition of the Bechirah we have and need to properly exercise necessitates periodic reminders, the need for that recognition exists constantly. And it could be that is for this very reason that in our Sidrah as well, we are introduced to the daily Mitzvah of Tefillin, regarding which the Torah commands with the all too familiar expression, “V’Hayah Lecha L’Os Al Yadcha…”-“And it shall be a sign for you on your hand…”6 This phrase, as do the Tefillin themselves, represents the very lesson of subjugating one’s power of choice, his every action, to the Will of Hashem.
In truth, we cannot establish enough signs for ourselves to remind us of our life struggle with the Evil Inclination and our free choice. We are certainly not limited to the signs we’ve identified. Shabbos is the “Os Hi L’Olam,”7 the eternal sign that G-d’s Will must reign supreme. Thus, the Torah has thus provided annual signs, monthly signs, weekly signs, and daily signs to remind us of our obligations and our choice to fulfill them. But, why stop there? So long as we establish signs for ourselves and realize that we make our own decisions in life, then we can choose the appropriate path of Avodas Hashem, leave the path of Galus, choosing a destiny that sees us being redeemed.
In the end, through a seemingly simple expression, the Torah leaves us with this profoundly fundamental idea that can be implemented at each moment we please. That is that the choice for one’s course of actions and larger lifestyle is “Lachem.” The choice is ultimately ours.
May we all be Zocheh to take control of our lives, choose the true Ratzon of our souls, live on the path of Avodas Hashem, really set ourselves apart from the Galus, choosing a destiny of Geulah and we should experience it with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 12:2
- See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #4
- Ibid. 12:1
- Ibid. 12:13
- See Rashi to 13:18 citing Mechilta
- Shemos 13:9
- Ibid. 31:17